Social Media Guidance for Emergencies

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This year’s National Preparedness Month theme is “Don’t Wait. Communicate. Make a Plan.” While the campaign is primarily directed towards the public, it is equally applicable to first responders and their agencies. The public looks to first responder agencies for information and updates before, during and after a disaster or emergency. Public safety agencies can enhance their communication with the public through social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. The Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate’s Virtual Social Media Working Group (VSMWG) provides social media guidance for public safety agencies across all first responder disciplines through its five main guiding documents. The VSMWG is comprised of a cross-section of subject matter experts from first responder agencies at the federal, tribal, territorial, state and local levels.

For agencies that are considering using social media or just getting started, the Social Media Strategy and Next Steps documents offer information on social media benefits for public safety, examples of social media platforms and functions, and agencies that use each platform, providing best practices and how-to for those new to social media. The Next Steps document outlines considerations for using social media, such as privacy concerns, use of comment policies, and how to handle records retention and health information. For each topic, there is a list of actions agencies can take to mitigate these concerns.

The VSMWG’s Lessons Learned: Social Media and Hurricane Sandy document details how social media was used during Hurricane Sandy, which impacted residents in over a dozen states. Throughout the natural disaster, all levels of government, non-profit agencies and the private sector employed social media to prepare, respond and recover.

Public safety agencies interested in using social media for better community engagement or learning about situational awareness can view the Community Engagement Guidance and Best Practices or the Using Social Media for Enhanced Situational Awareness and Decision Making document. Community engagement can improve collaboration between agencies and community members, as well as help with preparedness and resilience in disasters. The integration of social media into information sharing and operational environments can augment first responders’ situational awareness for better planning, decision-making and resource allocation.

For more information on VSMWG members, please visit Meet the VSMWG.